How Sean Taylor Became Immortal
After I finished asking questions of North County Christ the King youth pastor Sean Taylor, he pulled a big binder out of a drawer and set it down with a thud on the table.
It was the monthly report on sex offenders in Whatcom County, Washington hot off the office printer, he said. He was going to make sure his volunteers saw it, so they'd know who to look out for. He told me he'd had some of the more notorious offenders posterized and stuck the flyer up in a common area so the youth workers could get a really good look at the predators.
This underscored an important truth about the man. Taylor is a fun guy with a recognized world record under his belt and the plaque on his wall to show it. Yet he takes the responsibility to protect his kids dead seriously.
All volunteers must undergo criminal background checks. If Taylor ever notices one of the binder baddies lurking, he'll call the cops or perhaps reach for a millstone if a body of water is nearby.
He was recruited to be a pastor at Christ the King under improbable circumstances. It was 2001. He was working in radio and bartending at a restaurant in Lynden, Washington. Kim Ryan, the pastor of the new church plant of the county's mega-est megachurch came to have a word with him at the bar.
After talking with Taylor, Ryan offered him a job on the spot. It was a part-time position in the church's youth ministry. Taylor was a little surprised at this. He has a degree in communications from Whitworth, a private Christian liberal arts college in Spokane, but has no formal theological training.
Taylor told me when I talked to him this January that the senior pastor "saw confidence in who I was in Christ" and decided to take the chance. Ryan might also have noticed from the radio that Taylor is a good communicator or from conversation that he is an autodidact with vast swaths of Scripture committed to memory.
Pastor Ryan could make that call because Christ the King has a management structure that affords its pastors decisionmaking powers that are often reserved to congregations in churches from free church traditions or to bureaucracies in churches with more vestments and smells and bells.
Christ the King, Taylor explained, is a "leader-led church." The senior pastor is the "visionary" who makes the top-level hiring decisions, with some consultation of a deacon-staff that handles finances.
Ryan expected other pastors to do likewise in their own ministries and to try new things, including starting new ministries -- connected to the church or extracurricular, it made no difference. It was all very "pastorpreneurial," Taylor said.
It wasn't easy or without bumps but Taylor excelled at it. The church was situated in part of an underutilized strip mall. His first office was literally in part of the bathroom of what had been Crazy Mike's Video store. The pay wasn't great. Sizing up the problem, an associate pastor agreed to reduce his employment to part time so Taylor could work at ministry full time.
He built the church youth group up to a robust 350 regular attenders and launched a side ministry called Big Oak to allow more cooperation between churches for things like rallies and summer camps. Why that name? I wondered. Taylor replied by rattling off about half of Isaiah chapter 61 from memory:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion-
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
Taylor summed it up: "That passage was speaking to Christ in me."
As part of Big Oak Ministries, Taylor bought and decorated a pickup truck so that it had a stage on back, to host speakers, singers, you name it.
The Northwest Washington Fairgrounds just across the street from Christ the King invited the Big Oak truck to be a part of the proceedings. Things sort of snowmobiled from there, right into the history books.
One day in 2011, Fair manager Jim Barron asked Taylor, "Hey, do you want to do a world record?"
They decided to put together the world's longest hayride and invited the Guinness Book of World Records folks to observe. They haytrain, explains Guinness, "consisted of 10 hay-covered trailers pulled by a single [giant] snowplow [for] a total of 11 minutes 12 seconds."
That record is probably safe for a while, or at least easy enough to defend. A total of 639 people participated in the hayride. Twice as many showed up as could fit on the trailers.
As I spoke with Taylor, Big Oak Ministries had just finalized a deal to run a giant youth center in the refurbished basement of a central building in downtown Lynden. The only minigolf course in town was included in that deal.
Things were going well for him, you might think, except that being a youth pastor can be a terrible burden. Taylor told me about all the kids' funerals he'd had to preach lately and of the kids he'd had to talk with after attempted suicides.
At one point in his ministry, the burden became too much. "I burned out. I was pretty fried," Taylor said. The stress of the job did permanent damage to his body. He has to take a "pill of humility" every day just to regulate.
After that burnout, Taylor went to work at the autonomous sister church Mt. Vernon Christ the King in neighboring Skagit County for a bit. Taylor remembers that church fondly.
"We had bums that slept in the bushes right outside the door," he said. The church would invite them in to clean up and eat some food in the morning.
The church also took care of him and his wife and four children, giving them a five month paid sabbatical to get things back together, with no obligation to return. Taylor tried to expand Big Oak operations but hinted to me that it really wasn't paying the bills.
He wound up back at the Christ the King in Lynden. In his two-year absence, the youth group plunged from over 300 kids to about 20 regulars.
These days, Taylor is in rebuilding mode with the youth ministry. He's got attendance back to over 100 regulars, the full support of his megachurch, and much of the community as well. He has received other offers to "move up," but has turned those down.
When he mouthed the words "move up," Pastor Taylor pronounced them almost derisively. "I don't think there's more important work to do [than youth ministry]," he said.